Brazil, South America's economic heavyweight, could produce enough ethanol to replace 10% of world gasoline demand in the next 20 years, according to a recently unveiled project. The Brazilian project, developed with the participation of the government and state-owned oil giant Petrobas, would multiply by 15 times the country's current production of ethanol from sugar cane.
The ramp-up would push Brazilian ethanol exports to 200 billion liters (44 billion gallons) in the coming 20 years, up from the roughly three billion (660,000 gallons) currently exported, Rogerio Cesar Cerqueira Leite, a professor emeritus at Campinas University, said.
The project would need investments of up to 20 billion reals (US$ 10 billion) a year for the first four or five years, after which the need was expected to diminish. "During the final seven to eight years, the return (on investment) should cover the amounts invested," Cerqueira Leite said.
He said that Brazil, the continent's biggest country, could drastically increase ethanol production without destroying the Amazon rainforest or encroaching on farmland. "Brazil has an enormous quantity of available land. We don't need to go into the Amazon or compete with food growing," he said.
Under the project, sugar cane would be grown in practically all regions of Brazil, and local distilleries would be built to produce process it into ethanol.
Besides being the world's top exporter of ethanol, Brazil is also a leading producer of the fuel, along with the U.S., which extracts it from corn rather than sugar cane.
President George W. Bush has set a target of reducing U.S. gasoline consumption by 20% in the next decade, particularly by developing non-fossil fuels. Last week Washington sent a senior diplomat to Brazil to explore a bilateral alliance on biofuels development, aimed at building a global market in renewable oil substitutes like ethanol.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007